An Acceptance of Patriarchal Rule As a Rite of Passage Into Personhood

Topic of Inquiry

  • The idea of the rites of passage of women into personhood as belonging to patriarchal society as a whole is an idea that is well-developed and often accepted as being cross-cultural. Traditional depictions of rites of passage for women such as marriage and menstrual cycles have been connected to patriarchy due to their connection to child bearing, and its connection to the expectation of women to be mothers. (see for example Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood)

For the purpose of analyzing the concept of personhood as it relates to patriarchy in Tricia Rose’s book, Longing To Tell, a general definition of personhood as it is illustrated in Longing To Tell is needed Personhood can be defined as self-ownership over one’s individuality and includes an understanding and commandment over one’s sexuality in terms of comfort with masturbation, the amount of  pleasure that each woman feels while participating in a sexual act, and the ability to be honest with themselves about their sexual desires and needs. Although the concept of personhood appears to be a concept that must be unique to each individual,  a command of personhood by many of the women in Longing To Tell  comes only after they reach specific milestones in their lives that are either directly or indirectly connected to the roles expected of them as daughters, wives, and mothers. In this way, an acceptance of the rules and roles allotted to them by patriarchal society acts as a rite of passage for many of the women’s entrance into personhood. For instance, when Luciana talks about her sexuality in terms of the level of comfort that she feels with exploring her sexuality and satisfying her sexual desires, she says that “her children have affected her sexuality because they made her not want to pursue the sexual curiosity that she has always had.” She also states that only now that her children are almost out of the house does she feel comfortable to explore her sexuality (Rose 71).As illustrated by this example, a woman’s sexuality is often intertwined with her duty and roles as a mother allotted to her by patriarchal society because for Luciana “only after” she has fulfilled her duty as a mother can she begin her personal journey into personhood.

Other representations of a woman’s passage into personhood as being linked to patriarchal society is made evident In Longing To Tell, when  Rita’s father tells her that” she is a woman now” (Rose 82) after he is made aware that Rita has started her period. In this example, Rita’s father is not only the most traditional representation of patriarchial rule, but he also acts as the gate keeper to his daughter’s journey into personhood. The father figure acts as a representation of patriarchy in Anondra’s story as well when she talks to her mother about sex.  Anondra recalls that her mother asked her if she was taking birth control pills and if she believed that she was sexually active enough to need to take birth control pills in front of her father.(Rose 290)  Although Anondra states that her father did not say anything while she and her mother were talking, it is easy to surmise that in congruence with the examples above that her mother felt that in order for her daughter to make her passage into personhood, she must have the approval of her father. (Later, it is revealed to Anondra that her father’s silence was a way of him approving his daughter becoming sexually active). The same association is made between patriarchy and a woman’s  journey into personhood when Luciana’s mother tells her after she gets her period that “she is now a big girl {and} can have sex if she wants to and even have a baby.’(Rose 57) The permission that Luciana is given to be able to be with boys in sexual terms and to even have a baby is positioned in the text as a rite of passage because before Luciana has her period, her mother specifically tells her “to not let boys get under her dress” and “to not bring babies here.” ( Rose 56)

Orgasms as links to a commandment of personhood appears to be a reoccurring theme and could also be linked to patriarchy because the women in the novel only reach this method of self-fulfillment after participating in unsatisfactory sex to satisfy their male partners.  Sarita specifically states that not only until she was able to have an orgasm was she able to see that she could be on an equal playing field with men (Rose 40). It is also important to note that right after Sarita had her first orgasm, she also became promiscuous, which could be interpreted as her taking charge of her own sexuality. Also, Luciana states that she had her first orgasm at thirty- two after she had already had children. As stated earlier, motherhood is a role expected of women in a patriarchal society and in Luciana’s case, she was only able to achieve self-fulfillment after she performed her duty as a mother. (Rose 59) Carliese’s narrative about her experience with having her first orgasm is particularly interesting with how it relates to patriarchy and her passage into personhood. Carliese states that even though she was able to climax, she was never able to tell her partner what to do to satisfy her sexually or to slow down when she needed him to (252). At the least Carliese’s narrative shows that there is a connection between a woman’s sexuality (personhood) and patriarchy.

Other representations of an acceptance of the roles allotted to women by patriarchy as a rite of passage into personhood are evident in ways that are not easily categorized:

  • Linda Rae comes to terms with her sexuality; her desires, wants, and dislikes from working as a prostitute ( Rose 113). As we discussed in class, prostitution is linked to patriarchy because of the loss of power that women have during sex and even from the “first gaze.”
  • Joclyn appears to have an epiphany about what she really wants out of life after being married to her husband. Also, there is some unidentified reason why Joclyn’s mother didn’t want her daughter to crave intimacy.
  • Aracely states that she is particularly aware of her sexuality in a setting that is predominately male (Rose 245).


Ultimately, the sexual lives of black women appear to be dominated and dictated ny patriarchal society in the same way that the sexual lives of women around the globe are also controlled by patriarchy. Due to this observation, there is a possibility that gender and the culture of patriarchy may eradicate many racial differences that could be found among women.


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